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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Narrative and the social construction of adulthood

  • Author(s): Hammack, PL
  • Toolis, E
  • et al.

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© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This chapter develops three points of elaboration and theoretical expansion upon Cohler's (1982) treatise on personal narrative and life course. First, we highlight Cohler's emphasis on an interpretive, idiographic approach to the study of lives and reveal the radicalism of this approach, particularly in its ability to interrogate the lived experience of social categorization. Second, we link Cohler's position directly to cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and consider the link between inner and social speech through the idea of narrative engagement. Finally, following Cohler's life course perspective on human development, we suggest that adulthood is best conceived as a cultural discourse to which individuals orient their personal narratives through a dynamic process of narrative engagement rather than a clearly demarcated life stage. Emerging adulthood is linked to cultural and economic processes of globalization in the 21st century and challenges static notions of social roles traditionally associated with compulsory heterosexuality (e.g., marriage and parenthood). Narrative processes in emerging adulthood occur through both situated storytelling and the formation of a life story that provides coherence and social meaning, both of which have key implications for social stasis and change.

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